My daughter Katie’s birthday was in January, so that means IEP (individualized education plan) season has begun. Like most special needs parents, I dread this time of year. As a single mom, it means a ton of meetings, paperwork, and reports jammed into an already overflowing schedule. Who needs that?
This year I had some advanced warning of what was to come. Back in October 2014, Katie’s teacher had coffee with the mother’s of her students. On mom asked Ms. Nav to describe the two middle school programs. I was stunned to learn both were essentially life skills classes. In other words, the school abandons academics and focuses on skills such as using money, cooking, personal hygiene, and public transportation. Which is fine if your child has severe cognitive delays and needs extra help in these areas. But Katie has average to high intelligence and no self-help delays. No matter how you slice it, a life skills class is not an appropriate placement.
Until then my primary strategy had been to keep Katie in her current school district and avoid transferring back to our home district. But if the only option was a wildly inappropriate life skills class, then I needed to alter my strategy. Since then I’ve been pondering my options: private school, charter school, or home schooling. But where to begin?
Before winter break I received a thick manilla envelope from Ms. Nav. Inside I expected to find a mandatory progress report. Instead I found the goals from our previous IEP listed next to the words: goal not approved. I hadn’t signed the IEP because I wanted a more rigorous reading program implemented for Katie similar to what Katie’s reading tutor had been successfully using at home. The school refused. So I didn’t sign. But unlike other school districts, this one simple shrugged and did nothing. I knew at some point the stalemate would have to end, but I had not predicted this.
Instead of progress on the current, unsigned goals, the teacher had reported on the previous year’s goals. And sadly, many of the goals still had not been met—most notably in speech and reading.
Much of December and January was spent at home, nursing my thumb back to health. While I was soaking and wrapping my throbbing digit, I pondered my IEP dilemma. This district’s M.O. was to stonewall until parents signed. I knew from previous experience that quoting the law wouldn’t alter anything. How could I change the script?
Eventually it dawned on me that I needed to find a win-win solution just like I had back in the days when I negotiated environmental permits. I wasn’t sure how to do that with a school district, but I could certainly change my tone. So at the IEP meeting I started by telling the school personnel that while I loved the district and was thrilled that they had been willing to take Katie, I was surprised and dismayed to see that no work had been done on the goals that we had all agreed to last year and that there were goals from a year earlier that were still unmastered. Therefore, the district was not only out of compliance, but could not show progress. They hadn’t even completed two of the three mandatory progress reports! I hoped to work with them in a collaborative fashion, but I would not wait another year. Either we signed an IEP, or I would file for due process.
The school personnel shifted in their seats, and someone mumbled that of course they wanted to work with me. Then they projected Katie’s current benchmarks on the wall. Amazingly, several tasks Katie had not mastered in late November were now mastered only a few school weeks later. We slowly worked through the report. Then the teacher presented the proposed goals for the coming year. Given what had been proposed two years earlier, and then again last year, the goals made no sense. It was as if another child’s goals had been mistakenly presented. When I pointed this out, staff grumpily said these were appropriate goals.
For whom, I asked. A child in the middle school life skills program?
Yes, they answered.
I reminded them that goals were supposed to drive the placement, not the other way around. If goals were appropriate for Katie in 2014, then they were still appropriate. I suggested we return to those goals. The teacher insisted we keep her proposed goals. I agreed to keep those along with the others. The program specialist asked if I would sign off on the proposed goals. No, I said sweetly, I’d like to see a consolidated set. Did she want to schedule a follow-up meeting?
To be continued….
Until next time,